There was news on Thursday about two different Trump-related documents. Both were the work of the Department of Justice, and both will see the light of day in short order.
The first of these documents is the memo written for AG Bill Barr back in 2019, on the question of whether, given the findings in the Mueller Report, the DoJ should pursue obstruction charges against Donald Trump. The answer that Asst. AG Steven Engel and Principal Associate Deputy AG Edward C. O'Callaghan came up with was, of course, "No." They concluded that the facts uncovered by Mueller were not enough to warrant legal action, and that charging a sitting president is probably not OK, anyhow.
We pass this along because it's the latest chapter in the Mueller saga. However, it would be hard for us to imagine a "major" document that is more meaningless and unrevealing than this one. Engel (and, for that matter, Barr) eventually decided enough was enough, and broke with Trump. But that came more than a year after this memo. At the point it was written, they were both squarely in the bag for him. So, one cannot hope for dispassionate legal analysis. And, for what it's worth, non-Trumpy lawyers who have looked at the document have concluded that the reasoning is very shaky (see here, here, here, and here for examples). The fact is that, regardless of what Engel and O'Callaghan actually thought, they knew full well what the boss wanted to hear. Maybe they delivered it happily, maybe reluctantly, but they clearly did the job they knew they were supposed to do.
And that brings us to the second reason this memo is pretty much meaningless. Barr had, in fact, already reached his conclusions before he ever read what Engel and O'Callaghan had to say. So, what they wrote had no influence on him whatsoever. This is actually why the memo was released. AG Merrick Garland did not want to release anything beyond the 6-pages-out-of-10-are-redacted version that's already been made public, because he doesn't want his underlings to worry that their confidential memos might end up on the front page of The New York Times. However, the judge who ordered the release said that the memo isn't work product because it played no role in the decision-making process.
We have to imagine that, in addition to being the latest chapter in the Mueller saga, it's also the final chapter. The statute of limitations on obstruction or other crimes Trump might have committed as part of this situation will soon run, if it hasn't already. Further, the DoJ has plenty of other irons in the fire when it comes to prosecuting Trump, and those undoubtedly make more sense to pursue than something Mueller-related.
And speaking of irons in the fire, the second document is the Mar-a-Lago affidavit. Yesterday, Judge Bruce Reinhart issued an order telling the DoJ that they have to release the document, but allowing Garland & Co. to redact key passages, as requested.
The deadline for release is noon ET today. As nobody outside the DoJ has seen the affidavit, as yet, there isn't much we can say. However, barring the unexpected, this would appear to be a loss for Trump. There's sure to be one or more damning things in the document accompanied by absolutely nothing that is exculpatory. On top of that, the former president presumably won't learn who ratted him out, and he won't be able to sic his base on the folks responsible for the search. We'll know for sure a few hours after this post goes live. (Z)
When Bob Dylan went electric, at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, it was pretty controversial. But that's nothing compared to what California came up with yesterday, as the state attempts to put fossil fuels on the path to extinction. At the prompting of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), the California Air Resources Board adopted new standards that will pretty quickly wean the state off of gasoline-powered vehicles.
Per the new rules, 35% of new cars in the state must be zero-emission vehicles by 2026. By 2030, that number jumps to 68%. And by 2035, it will no longer be legal to sell brand-new, gasoline-powered vehicles in the state—only electrics, alternate-fuel vehicles and a few select hybrids. Gas-powered used cars will linger on, of course, though they'll become less and less viable over time as the number of gas stations shrinks.
This is going to have a rather profound impact. California has 12% of the nation's population and close to 20% of the nation's money, so just by itself it can compel auto makers to stand up and take notice. Further, there are 17 other states—mostly big, blue ones—that follow the Golden State's emission standards. As with building new coal-processing plants, the time will soon come when designing new gasoline-powered car models just won't make economic sense.
Also, as we look ahead to the 2024 and/or 2028 presidential races, this will give Newsom some pretty serious environmental bona fides to run on. He's pretty moderate overall, but he can use this to sell himself to all wings of the party, particularly the Bernie wing. Conveniently for the Governor, California will reach the point where more EVs than gas-powered vehicles are being sold right in the middle of the 2028 campaign cycle. He might just mention that a few times on the campaign trail, assuming he runs (Pro tip: He's going to). (Z)
One of the challenges that Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) faces, now that he is the Democrats' gubernatorial nominee in Florida, is that he's way behind Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) in terms of cash on hand. Like, $100 million-plus behind.
In his first full day as the blue team's flag-bearer, however, Crist got some good news: His campaign collected more than $1 million in donations from across the country. That's certainly a start. We won't know additional details until the Q3 reporting deadline (Oct. 10), or until Crist releases them, but he just might make up some of that wealth gap.
Actually, we're inclined to think that while the money race favors DeSantis right now, it probably won't matter as much as other factors (like Florida's red lean and DeSantis' incumbency). As we've seen time and again, there's a certain point at which the returns provided by campaign spending start to rapidly diminish. And the Governor, perhaps in recognition of this fact, is spending a lot of his money on ads in places like Pennsylvania and Virginia. The staff geographer advises us that neither of those places is Florida, and that nobody who sees those commercials will be casting a ballot in the Sunshine State this year.
Heck, there's a chance that for DeSantis, the less advertising, the better. This week, his campaign dropped an absolutely godawful ad. Here it is, if you would care to watch it:
The bit, if you didn't watch it, is that DeSantis is "Top Gov," which is a play on "Top Gun." In other words, the Governor has cast himself as one of the most famous movie heroes in the last half-century. And in the commercial, DeSantis outlines his rules of engagement for "taking on the corporate media," which are "Number one—don't fire unless fired upon, but when they fire, you fire back with overwhelming force," "Number two—never ever back down from a fight," and "Number three—don't accept their narrative."
He's getting shredded on social media. Here are our observations:
Crist, incidentally, has already released his first ad:
Let’s make history, Florida.— Charlie Crist (@CharlieCrist) August 24, 2022
Defeat fascism, defeat DeSantis. pic.twitter.com/o5AwUDtTjO
The three main themes, if you don't care to watch, are: (1) DeSantis is a fascist, (2) Crist wants to build Floridians up instead of tearing them down, and (3) Crist really wants to be governor, and does not have his eye on a promotion. Those are some pretty strong planks to run on; we'll see what happens once the race starts to get polled. It's Florida, so the polls will soon be coming fast and furious. (Z)
Ron DeSantis is awash in cash because he comes from a big, rich state and because he is, if we may say so, the great white hope. Many of his Republican colleagues, particularly those who are running for federal office (and so cannot collect more than $5,600 per donor) are not so lucky. In particular, in nearly all of the swing-state U.S. Senate races, the Republican candidate is lagging far behind the Democrat.
The folks at the RNC, in particular RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel, are starting to get desperate. We know because Politico laid hands on a recording of a conference call between the Chairwoman and a bunch of Republican megadonors. And in it, she says that while the Republicans have a great group of Senate candidates this year, those candidates could really use some more money (hint, hint). Undoubtedly, she believes approximately 50% of that.
That was not the only interesting bit in the recording, either. It's kinda buried in the Politico story, but billionaire Republican Steve Wynn piped up and said that the key to Republican hopes is, in effect, lying. He argues that the Party must warn low-income Americans that the IRS is coming after them thanks to that $80 billion in new funding granted by the Inflation Reduction Act. Wynn even proposed a tentative script: "Hard-hitting kind of spots with a man's voice, no soft pedal. 'They're coming after you if you're a waiter, if you're a bartender, if you're anybody with a cash business... they're coming after you.'" This is not true, of course, but if you've got nothing honest to run on, then a lie will have to do. You're just not supposed to get caught on tape admitting it.
In any event, the money situation for Republican Senate (and House) candidates will be something worth watching. The right-leaning super PACs have not yet unleashed their might, as yet, and that could make up for some candidates' lack of funds. That said, PACs have to pay way more for commercials than campaigns do, so their money will only go so far. Further, once a candidate seems the be a lost cause (ahem, Mehmet Oz), both the PACs and the donors will take their money elsewhere. (Z)
We don't often get a chance to zoom in on a race for a U.S. House seat, much less a primary. Nationally, House races get only a small fraction of the coverage afforded to U.S. Senate races and gubernatorial races. And one of us lives in Europe while the other lives in a deep blue district that hasn't had a competitive House race in a couple of generations. So, we can't exactly draw on local coverage, either.
On Tuesday, there was a very interesting race in NY-12, as long-serving Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D) not only dispatched long-serving Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D), but did so in a landslide, winning by more than 30 points (55.4% to 24.4%, with another 19.1% going to third-place finisher Suraj Patel). We had no idea what happened, so we asked readers to weigh in. We got some very interesting analysis, and so we thought we'd share some of those messages today. A somewhat rare occasion of looking at the trees rather than the forest. So, without further ado:
Thanks to all of you for your insights! (Z)
A month or so ago, there was a 17-year-old in Florida who petitioned the courts for permission to get an abortion without parental consent (as her parents are no longer in the picture). The judge, Jared Smith, took note of the petitioner's 2.0 GPA and decreed that she lacked the intelligence and maturity to make that decision. So, he denied the petition. For those keeping score at home, that's "not mature enough to choose abortion" but "more than capable of raising a child."
In short, Smith does not appear to be a top-flight representative of the judicial system. Even if one agrees with his ultimate conclusion, basing a ruling on GPA is both dubious and demeaning. And that isn't the only demerit against him. He's one of those judges who makes very clear that the main law book he follows is the Bible (which may explain why he's apparently unfamiliar with the First Amendment, as it's not in there). Further, Smith and his wife, Suzette, have both expressed the view that what Jews really need is... Jesus. Perhaps they are not aware that we already have a word for people who have embraced both the Old and New Testaments.
Anyhow, judges in Florida are elected, and Smith was up this year. In fact, he was on the ballot on Tuesday. The race between him and his opponent, Nancy Jacobs, was unusually nasty. Jacobs could not comment directly on Smith's decisions as judge, as that is against Florida law (again, what of the First Amendment?). However, she did make the case that he might not be the nicest fellow in the world, and she did post news articles about the abortion decision to her campaign website. For Smith's part, he suggested that Jacobs is definitely one of those Jews who needs Jesus.
As you can guess, given that this is a schadenfreude item, Smith hasn't had a great month. His decision on the abortion was overruled by a three-judge panel. And then, on Election Day, he was voted out of office. Nobody polls judicial races, of course, but folks with their fingers on the pulse of local politics (this was in Hillsborough County) said that it was the abortion ruling that did him in. In any case, see ya, Jared. Don't let the gavel hit you in the rear on the way out.
Incidentally, in case you think we've made an error, Smith was the judge who denied a parentless 17-year-old Floridian an abortion because of her alleged lack of intelligence. This is an entirely different story than the one about the parentless 16-year-old Floridian who was denied an abortion because of her alleged lack of intelligence. What a state! (Z)
Once a news story ceases to be shocking and scandalous, it tends to drop off the radar. And so, everyone heard, saw, and read plenty about the Donald Trump-era border policy that separated children from their families. But what has happened since?
First, note that it's estimated that a total of about 5,000 families were split up while the Trump-era policy was in place. Making things worse is that Trump administration officials kept atrocious records. Was it incompetence? Was it an attitude that these families did not deserve to be reunited? Something else? We don't know, but what we do know is that the Trump administration's handling of the whole affair was excoriated in a 2021 report from the Department of Justice. From the report:
Although DOJ leadership told the OIG [Office of the Inspector General] that their priority was to increase the number of immigration-related prosecutions in order to "restore legality" to the Southwest border and decrease the number of illegal entries into the United States, the OIG's review ultimately determined that the Department's single-minded focus on increasing prosecutions came at the expense of careful and appropriate consideration of the impact that prosecution of family unit adults and family separation would have on children traveling with them and the government's ability to later reunite the children with their parents. We further determined that Department leadership did not take steps, after learning about difficulties in identifying the location of separated children, to reconsider their prior assumptions about the ability to immediately reunify separated families.
Although his name doesn't appear in this particular excerpt, the person who serves as the main bad guy of the report is actually... former AG Jeff Sessions.
Anyhow, under orders from several judges, the Trump administration reunited all the families that could be brought back together with ease. That reduced the number of divided families to about 1,400, and at that point Trump & Co. threw up their hands and said there was nothing more to be done.
When Joe Biden took office, he decided that "nothing more to be done" was not correct, and created a Family Reunification Task Force under the leadership of Michelle Brané, formerly of the Women's Refugee Commission. Keeping in mind that there is virtually no documentation for the 1,400 remaining families, and that in most cases the children are still in the U.S. while the parents have been expelled, it was a herculean task. But Brané and her team have managed to bring 400 more families back together.
That still leaves 1,000 families to go, of course, but 1,000 is far better than 1,400. Further, the Biden administration has allowed the separated families to reunite in the United States and to remain here and work for up to 3 years. Given the cruelty that was visited upon these folks by the United States government, that certainly seems the decent thing to do. Excellent work by the Family Reunification Task Force, and here's hoping that the near future brings hundreds of additional success stories. (Z)